Election clerks Pauline Plourde, left, and Susan Gallant process absentee ballots for the primary election, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Lewiston, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

The BDN is making the most crucial coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact in Maine free for all readers. Click here for all coronavirus stories. You can join others committed to safeguarding this vital public service by purchasing a subscription or donating directly to the newsroom.

An unprecedented 163,000 Maine voters have requested absentee ballots ahead of the July 14 primary election complicated by the coronavirus, according to state data updated on Thursday.

State and local officials have urged voters to request absentee ballots in order to avoid crowding at the polls on Election Day, which could pose a public health threat due to the coronavirus pandemic. The number of absentee ballots requested is a record for a primary, though it would take a massive surge to hit the record 244,000 requests from the 2008 general election.

Under an executive order from Gov. Janet Mills, voters can request absentee ballots up through Election Day, though all ballots must be turned in by the time polls close at 8 p.m., so voters hoping to receive and return their absentee ballot by mail should request one sooner.

Here is the breakdown of who has been requesting absentee ballots so far.

Democrats are significantly outpacing Republicans on absentee ballot requests.

Democrats are expected to vote in greater numbers than Republicans in the upcoming election — they make up a greater portion of the electorate and have a competitive primary in the U.S. Senate race, while Republicans only have a competitive one in the 2nd Congressional District.

Both parties also have local legislative primaries, and all voters — including Greens and independents — can vote in the state’s two bond questions. But even when accounting for differences based on registration and primaries, Democrats are requesting absentee ballots at a higher rate.

In the 2nd District there are just over 157,000 registered Democrats compared to 152,000 Republicans, but nearly 33,000 Democratic voters in the 2nd District had requested absentee ballots through July 2 compared to about 13,300 Republican voters, according to state data.

Primaries for the Maine Legislature seem to be pushing up the number of requests.

The cities and towns that have seen the most absentee ballot requests tend to be Democratic-leaning areas in southern Maine that have competitive legislative primaries.

The greatest number of absentee ballot requests come from the House district covering Yarmouth and two island communities, where three first-time legislative candidates — Heather Abbott, Arthur Bell and Peter Fromuth — will face off in a Democratic primary. More than 2,800 voters have requested absentee ballots, nearly a third of all active registered voters.

Other House districts that have seen at least 2,500 absentee ballot requests include House District 30, a heavily Democratic district covering part of Cape Elizabeth that features a contest between former state Rep. Kim Monaghan and state Sen. Rebecca Millett, and House District 41 in Portland, where Laurie Davis, Benjamin Grant and Samuel Zager are facing off in a Democratic primary.

The cities and towns with the most requests are not necessarily the ones with the greatest virus risk.

Though some parts of the state still see significantly higher virus risks than others, hard hit areas in southern Maine were not always the ones seeing the most absentee ballot requests.

The town with the greatest share of absentee ballot requests through July 2 was Ogunquit, where 44 percent of active voters had requested absentee ballots. It was followed by Arrowsic, Yarmouth, Bar Harbor, Cumberland, Cape Elizabeth, Camden, Freeport, Falmouth and Newcastle, all of which have seen at least 30 percent of voters request absentee ballots.

Among towns with at least 5,000 active voters, the two that had seen the least share of absentee ballots requested were in opposite parts of the state: Berwick and Presque Isle have both seen about 7 percent of active voters request absentee ballots.